Without the springtime rituals of traditional graduation ceremonies, former President Barack Obama delivered two virtual commencement addresses on Saturday, urging millions of high school and college graduates to fearlessly carve a path and "to seize the initiative" at a time when he says the nation's leaders have fumbled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The speeches, aired hours apart, combined the inspirational advice given to graduates — build community, do what is right, be a leader — with pointed criticism of the handling of a public health crisis that has killed more than 87,000 Americans and crippled much of the economy.
"More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," Mr. Obama said in the afternoon address streamed online. "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge."
Mr. Obama returned to that theme in his address to high school seniors in the evening.
"Doing what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy — that's how little kids think," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others."
New York Times, May 16, 2020